I was pretty excited about my very first trip on Amtrak and enjoyed the trip immeasurably. But, I didn't write much about it and didn't take many photographs. At that time, I didn't know that journaling my rail travels with travelogues and photos would play a significant role in my future career! Below, you can see all that I wrote about my very first journey on Amtrak:
"This was my very first trip on Amtrak. I booked one of their Air/Rail Amtrak Great American Vacations. My two daughters and I flew to Seattle on 9/23/95. We toured Seattle until Sunday and then returned to Los Angeles via Amtrak. The tour package included airfare from Los Angeles to Seattle, a Hotel in Seattle for 3 nights, a rental car for 3 days, and the return trip by Train for all 3 of us. The total cost came to $1390. Since we had the Family Room on the train, this also included all meals on the train for the 2 day trip! As you will find elsewhere in my description about dining on the train, the meals on the train are the equivalent in price and quality to those in a good restaurant. So, take that into consideration when comparing value to cost."
To read more about my stay in Seattle, Washington, the weekend before I boarded my very first Amtrak train, click here.
The above was all that I wrote about my first Amtrak trip. The below information was posted on August 1, 2002, almost seven years after I took my first trip on Amtrak.
I grew up in Malden, Massachusettes, a suburb about 5 miles north of Boston. The Boston & Mail Railroad (B&M) used to run commuter cars right at the end of the street where I grew up, Oakland Street. Sometimes I'd walk down to the end of my street with friends to watch the trains go by for a couple of hours. That was about all the "train watching" that I did when growing up. I can mostly remember the budliner commuters cars that would zip by at a pretty good speed. Sometimes there were freight trains, but I can't remember much about them.
My family, like most in the area, had one car. My Dad would use that to get to and from work. My Mom, like most housewives at that time in our area, had not learned to drive. That wasn't much of a drawback as our area had extensive public transportation. From my house, I could walk 3 blocks in either direction and end up at a bus stop. When I was very young, our public transportation system was called the MTA, which I believe was short for "Metropolitan Transit Agency". Later, the coverage area was greatly expanded and the name was changed to the "Massachusettes Bay Transportation Authority", the MBTA or just the "T" for short.
When I was a teenager, in Junior High and High School, I used to take the bus to the nearest subway station. From there, I explored the entire rapid transit system in Boston: the Orange Line, Red Line, Blue Line, and all the streetcars routes on the Green Line. It only cost 10 cents to enter the system. No further fare was needed as long as you knew which stops you could get off at and change directions without paying another fare. At first, I had to learn that the hard way. I would sometimes end up at an end of a line where I would have to exit the station and pay another fare before being able to get back to the platform for the return train.
I continued to use the "T" through the first couple of years of college. I didn't do much exploring on it during college, but I would sometimes ride it all the way to Revere Beach when I had a long break between classes during the day. There, I would just sit on a bench for an hour or two watching the surf before taking the "T" back to campus for my afternoon classes.
That was pretty much the end of my train riding days for many years. Until I was in my mid 40's, I never rode in any type of passenger train other than subways or streetcars. I never even rode in any commuter trains. The MBTA in Boston did not have commuter trains when I moved out of that area in late 1979. I did not even know of the existence of the Metrolink commuter trains in the Los Angeles area until after I started riding Amtrak, even though I drove across the tracks where they operated in my own community many times each week!
But, of greater surprise, is that I did not know of the existence of Amtrak until 1995! The concept of passenger rail never even crossed my mind until the 1990s. I was always aware that passenger trains were a major mode of transportation in this counry prior to airlines and the interstates. But, I guess I just assumed that passenger rail didn't exist anymore. In 1970, I traveled from Boston to Portland, Oregon, round-trip by Greyhound bus. I'd certainly have considered making that trip by rail if I knew that option existed! Amtrak certainly could not have been doing a good job of marketing from its inception in 1971 until 1995 if the idea of passenger train travel was nothing more than a vague idea to me!
In the 1990s, a friend and I discussed the possibility of taking a train trip. I don't remember how I learned that passenger train travel was still available. What was of greatest interest to me was the idea that you could get your own private room on the train. That sounded like a totally different way to travel, totally unlike travel in a bus or airplane, or even in a car! But I still had no idea that the entity that offered this was called "Amtrak". I probably did hear the name "Amtrak" from time to time on the news, but it probably went in one ear and out the other, like the name of a lesser known airline.
In the late summer of 1995, I started hearing Amtrak ads on the radio. My kids had a vacation coming up in late September, so I thought that a train ride might make for a great adventure. I called up Amtrak Vacations for more information. We only had 5 or 6 days to play with. I don't remember why I had to make this vacation so short, but I knew we were restricted to that time frame. With such a short timeframe in mind, Amtrak Vacations suggest an Air-Rail package to Seattle, Washington. It would take only a few hours by plane to get to Seattle and then we could end our vacation with a two day return trip by rail.
I asked about a sleeping room on the train and was delighted to find out that they had a special "Family Room" that could accommodate up to five. That sounded perfect for us! It would just be my two daughters and myself and there should be plenty of room for us in the Family Room! My schedule was more flexible than my wife's schedule, so she would not be with us on this trip. Over the years since then, it has become the norm for my kids to travel with me on the train and my wife to fly and meet us at our destination. But, on this trip, it would just be the kids and I.
We flew from Southern California to Seattle. Amtrak Vacations had booked us a hotel out by the airport. I'm not sure why they did that as almost all the tourist sites that we wanted to visit were in the city, many miles away from the SEA-TAC airport. We also booked a rental car through Amtrak Vacations. Every day we had to drive all the way into downtown Seattle from SEA-TAC and then back again. We often like to break our day and take a rest in the middle. Thus, we would sometimes make this roundtrip twice in the same day! In later rail trips, I learned the hotel where the Amtrak crew spent the night and have made that my main hotel for Seattle ever since. That is the Pioneer Square Hotel and is within walking distance of the Seattle Amtrak Station, though a bit of a hefty walk. I've heard that the Amtrak crews no longer stay at that hotel, but it is still one of the best restored historic hotels in Seattle and within walking or transit distance of just about anything you would want to visit in Seattle.
Details of our stay in Seattle can be found by clicking here.
On the morning of our return trip, I returned the rental car and we then took a long taxi ride from the hotel by SEA-TAC to the Seattle Amtrak Station. The inside and outside of the building were in stark contrast. The outside was of an impressive historic structure. The inside looked much like a bus depot. The motif was 1960s futuristic. People in the 1960's had a certain view of the way they thought design and furnishings would look in the future. That included thinks like drop ceilings, florescent lights, plastic chairs, vending machines, etc. From what I learned later, the station was given this "facelift" to impress visitors to the Seattle 1962 World's Fair. Little did these designers know that we would later want to return to our heritage and restore all these historic stations to their original majestic design! A plan is currently in place and work has begun to restore the Seattle station.
While sitting in the plastic seats waiting for the boarding call, we heard the Amtrak train pull into the platform. I will never forget the low rumble and the "Whoop!" "Whoop!" as the Genesis locomotives pulled by the windows of the station followed by the single level baggage car and several double level Superliner cars. That was the first Amtrak train that I had ever noticed and I was greatly impressed! It is possible that I had seen an Amtrak train at a railroad crossing before, but if I did, I didn't even make a minor mental note of it. Knowing that I would soon be boarding this train and that it was standing right outside the window certainly did not fail to make an impression on me!
At about 20 minutes before the time for the train to depart, the Conductors manned two desks near the doors to the platform. One desk was for coach passenger check-in and the other for sleeping car passenger check-in. Lines quickly formed in front of each desk. As each passenger got up to the desk, the Conductor would tear and take their ticket stub and hand them a boarding pass. For coach passengers, a seat assignment would be written on their boarding pass. For sleeping car passengers, the Conductor would copy the car number and room number that was already printed on the ticket over to the boarding pass. Coach and Sleeping Car passengers each went out different doors to the platform. Coach passengers were directed to head in one direction and Sleeping Car passengers in the other direction.
We headed to our Sleeping Car. The Car Attendant at the door helped us put our larger bags in the luggage racks right by the vestibule as we entered. She then directed us to the room at the end of the lower level of the Sleeping Car. I thought the family room looked great! It had one huge couch that stretched all the way from one side of the train to the other side of the train with a window on each side of the room! There would be no missing any scenery on this ride, no matter which side of the train it was on! My kids settled right in to the facing seats with a pull-out table on one side of the room. I settled into the seat by the window on the other side of the room, also with a pull-out table. That still left a great amount of empty couch between us! I closed the door and thought how wonderful it was to have our own room on the train! We had plenty of room to stand, sit, or even walk around a little! The Family Room is actually the only room on the train that has a door that opens and closes on hinges rather than slides to close. It is also the only room that has a tiny hallway between the door and the main area of the room. There is also a full-length closet in the room with enough room for 2 or 3 jackets.
I was surprised by how quietly the train departed from the station. I didn't feel a thing when the train started to move. The only way I could tell that we were moving was because the station platform was going past the window! I'm not sure what I was expecting, maybe the noice and lurching of a bus.
Once the train was underway, we all went to explore the train. Finally, I figured out something that had mystified me ever since I purchased the tickets. I had been told by the reservation agent at Amtrak Vacations that the room was the full width of the car and that it would have windows on both sides. Ever since that time, I couldn't figure out how people could get from car to car without going through our room! I don't think I had any idea that the train cars would be double-level, or if I did know that, I guess I never thought it would be the upper level rather than the lower level where passengers would pass from car to car!
We worked our way through the train to the Pacific Parlour Car, then through the Dining Car, the Sightseer Lounge Car, and then into the Coach Cars. I wasn't yet sure if there wouldn't be more types of common area cars. Who knows what other types of cars there might be: a videogame car, a bowling alley, a swimming pool? Remember, this was my first time on a train and I was already surprised by finding the other non-revenue cars where a passenger could hang out and relax. But no, the coaches were the end of the line. There were no other intersting cars. So, we headed back and spent some time in both the Sightseer Lounge Car, upstairs and downstairs, and in the Pacific Parlour Car. At that time, the Pacific Parlour Car had not been refurbished and there were just tables downstairs which the Conductor used for his office.